Monday, April 02, 2007

Trust and paranoia

"We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes towards us out of the future.
We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future.
We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come.
And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.
It is part of what we must learn in this age, namely, to live out of pure trust, without any security in existence -- trust in the ever-present help of the spiritual world.
Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.
And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and every evening."
-Rudolf Steiner

Papa Bradstein recently posted about parenting and fear, and my lengthy comment there brought home to me how pervasive fear is in modern parenting (not to mention simply being human). He quotes Paula Spencer's recent article in Newsweek about parental paranoia, asking what the effect might be on our kids growing up with constantly neurotic parental models, and why we might look back fondly on childhood adventures sans parental hovering but would never allow our children those freedoms today.

And I purposefully use the word freedom here. As I said in my comment to Papa B, I'm all for creating safe boundaries in which children can play freely. I'll give you an example:

Our yard has no fence, just a brook for a back boundary. So whenever the kids are outside playing, I'm pretty much always going to be with them, barring the occasional run into the house to grab some crackers for snack. After living here for almost a year, I feel like I've created a "psychic space" in our yard, where the kids know that they need to stay close by. But they're still young enough that I monitor them closely.

The other day they decided they wanted to play "in the forest," meaning in the trees at the edge of the yard. As long as I could see them, I stayed away and let them do their foresty thing while I got some yard work done. They happily pulled a few wagons in there, and proceeded to pretend they were living in a house, making a (pretend) fire out of sticks to cook some (pretend) food. Beautiful, self-motivated, imaginative play.

I find that this kind of playing, free from adult intervention, is very refreshing and healthy for them. So much of their time each day is dictated by adult rules and desires. I've noticed that when we're inside the house, the kids become much more like billiard balls, knocking into each other all the time. When they play outside, they have both physical and psychic space in which to roam, and they hardly ever conflict.

Now this is not to say that I don't have my fears, even when they're happily playing house. There's still a part of my mind thinking: What if she trips and bashes her head on a rock? What if he gets a nasty case of poison ivy on his sensitive skin? What if they fall in the brook and catch pneumonia? What if a meteorite falls from the sky and knocks one of them unconscious? (OK, that last one is really far-fetched, but it could happen!)

I try to maintain the state of mind that Paula Spencer promotes:
"No matter how careful you are, bad stuff happens (diaper rash, stitches, all your friends assigned to another class). And it's seldom the end of the world."

Otherwise, what am I modeling for my children? That the world is not a safe place? (Sunscreen and hand-sanitizer and white sugar, oh my!) That they should not be self-reliant? (Don't climb up there, you might fall!) That they should not be happy and creative? (Don't touch that, you might break it!)

When SillyBilly was born, he was in serious medical trouble and came close to death. A good friend told us that in her meditations on him, she wished that he would "meet his true destiny." I remember feeling that, while I appreciated her sentiment, at that point I couldn't go there with her. I just wanted to hold my little boy. But now, I can link her comment with Steiner's thoughts above: "whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom," and it is up to us to receive it with gratitude and trust.

4 comments:

charlotte said...

I love this thoughtful post. I am aware that as a generation of parents we are overly protective and teach our children to be fearful.

I remember reading something when I was pregnant with Lily, which talked about children's natural sense of self-preservation. I have tried, though not always succeeded, to trust that their instincts will kick in and that I don't always have to be pointing out where danger lies.

It often comes down to spiritual beliefs. If, as you once said, you believe your children are a newly arrived blank slate then you feel you have to teach them everything and protect them from everything. If you believe that your children arrive with experience that they can tap into, then you can trust them more and allow them a little more freedom.

(un)relaxeddad said...

I couldn't agree more. Post dudelet's leg incident, my heart still provides me with an extra little flutter every time he dives headlong off the sofa or twists around in a swing seat at the top of its arc or or or...

In line with your thoughts, I don't want to deny him the world through a misplaced desire to keep him 'safe' from it. And he's smart enough to know (most) of the right boundaries - still shuffles down steep staircases on his bottom.

Helen said...

I've gone into super-paranoia mode since Kiko's allergic reaction on Sunday, worrying each time he takes a bite of food, and all my other worries have come rushing in too, as well as flashbacks from his birth. I am a naturally anxious person and so I constantly try and keep this worrying in check. I know it's not good for him.

Your attitude towards your children's play areas seems similar to mine. Kiko loves being able to go off and do his own thing but at this age I'll always be in the background. On the other hand, I could never be one of those parents who drills their six-year-old around playground equipment while screaming at them to: "Keep clean!"

I know your friend meant well and I appreciate what she was trying to say, but I would have got very upset by that "destiny" comment in the aftermath of Kiko's birth.

Henitsirk said...

Charlotte: I think there is natural self-preservation, and then guardian angels! Sometimes I wonder how human babies ever survive, given their predilections for putting everything in their mouths, and then all the running/jumping/climbing that happens later.

URD: And I wonder how we parents survive all the stress and anxiety of parenting. Maybe we need to remember we have guardian angels too?

Helen: It is so hard to suppress our natural anxieties. I want my kids to feel, for as long as possible, that the world is a safe place. This morning I even refused to read Hansel and Gretel to them, because I felt they were too young to understand the part about the kids being abandoned in the forest by the parents (though the spiritual significance of fairy tales is a much longer post for the future!), because I never want them to feel insecure about their parents. Bad enough when I lose my cool and yell at them, I sure don't want them to think that I'd leave them to the wicked witch!